Appendices - Hirohito's War
O. Japanese – Soviet Conflict in Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria
The Trans-Siberian Railway Transforms the Geopolitics of Northeast Asia: The new commitment to the Far East was most clearly expressed by the building of the Trans- Siberian railway. Mirroring the experience of the United states, where the completion of Erie Canal in 1825 opened up the west to trade and to settlers, the completion of the Ob River system in 1857 served the same economic and social function. But growth merely brought increased pressure for more infrastructure.
While a 1,680-mile rail link from Moscow to Omsk, in southwestern Siberia had been built earlier, the construction of a 4,000-mile route from Omsk to Vladivostok in the far east of Siberia, beginning late in the nineteenth century, was on a different order of magnitude. The geopolitical importance of this vast enterprise was indicated by the visit of Russia’s crown prince, later Tsar Nicholas II, to Vladivostok in March 1890, where he inaugurated the Far east section of the Trans-Siberian railway. As with the First Transcontinental railroad built in the United States, work started at both ends.
Ironically Prince Nicholas’s stop in Vladivostok was preceded by a visit to Japan, part of a grand round-the-world tour; no country was more radically affected by the building of a Trans-Siberian railway than Japan. A railway that could transport troops and heavy weapons was not just an economic threat. While in Japan, Prince Nicholas was threatened; indeed, he was fortunate to survive an assassination attempt by a policeman assigned to protect him.
China was equally concerned but with its economic and military power in precipitate decline, which became evident with its crushing defeat by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War in 1905, it was Japan that stood as the bulwark to the expansion of Russian power in the east. Diplomatic jostling between Russia and Japan now ensued for suzerainty over Manchuria and Korea. With the completion of the last section of the Trans- Siberian railway in 1904—the Circum-Baikal railway—goods and troops could reach Vladivostok without needing to unload onto ships on Siberia’s vast Lake Baikal. regional rivalry in the Far east led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, which ended with the almost complete annihilation of the Russian Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
The First World War and the Russian revolution presented further opportunity for Japan to diminish Russian, now soviet, influence in the Far east. Winston Churchill, who had declared that Bolshevism should be “strangled in its cradle,”2 was not alone in his view. in Russia’s eastern empire White Russians overthrew the Bolsheviks in Omsk and Petropavlovsk (Khazakhstan) and moved westwards, capturing Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains on 17 July 1918 with the help of the Czech Legions. They liberated the city shortly after the murder there of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. In Siberia the new Provisional All-Russian Government was established in Omsk and soon came to be dominated by its war minister, Rear-Admiral Alexander Kolchak, who established a dictatorship in Siberia after a coup d’état in October 1918. Meanwhile in Russian central Asia, British-led forces managed to push back Red Army units. In addition, British and American forces seized Murmansk and archangel in northern Russia.
In the spring of 1919 a White Russian Army advance was forced back by the brilliant Red Army commander, General Mikhail Tukhachevsky. In October Omsk, the capital of the Provisional All-Russian Government, fell to the Red Army, starting a retreat to the Far East. In mid-February 1920 the few remaining White Army combatants made their escape across Lake Baikal and joined General Grigory Semyonov, the new leader of the White Russian Army in Siberia. Here they were supported by a joint international force comprising a 70,000 strong Japanese Army, plus 50,000 Czechs, 8,000 Americans, 4,000 Canadians, 2,500 Italians, 2,500 Chinese, 2,000 Poles, 1,500 British and 1,000 French—almost 140,000 troops in aggregate.
It was a difficult alliance. With the largest force, Japan assumed command in Vladivostok and General Otani issued the order:
“I have the honor to inform you that I have been appointed commander of the Japanese Army at Vladivostok, by His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, and that I am entrusted, unanimously, by the allied Powers, with the command of their armies in the Russian Territory of the Far east.”3
However, there was mismatch in expectations. General William Graves, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force to Siberia, was under orders not to engage with the Bolshevik forces other than in the defense of Us interests. The commitment of the western forces was short-lived. In June 1920 Britain, America, France and Italy withdrew from Vladivostok leaving only the Japanese. Fearful of the arrival of communism within their sphere of geopolitical interest, the Japanese Siberian expeditionary Force remained in Siberia until October 1922 when Prime Minister Tomosaburo Kato, facing increasing criticism of the cost of the expedition, ordered a withdrawal.